US President Joe Biden signed a decree on Thursday imposing a new round of sanctions on Russia. They target more than 30 individuals and organisations. The White House also moved to expel nearly a dozen of Moscow’s diplomats.
The move, which the White House says is in response to alleged interference by Moscow in the 2020 US presidential election, will see American companies banned from directly buying shares in the Russia’s national debt. The Kremlin has consistently denied that it made any attempt to meddle in the contest, in which Biden defeated former President Donald Trump. Sanctions have also been linked to the colossal SolarWinds cyber-espionage case, which Washington claims Russia was behind. This espionage altered the software after malware infected updates were injected and the network monitoring application was infected for malicious intentions.
Earlier this month, the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Pankin warned that the US may resort to attacking bonds as part of “a deliberate calculation to create a toxic atmosphere around Russian securities in order to reduce their investment potential.” He added that Moscow was already working to create a battle plan to limit the effect such sanctions would have on the economy.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan defended the move later on Thursday, saying that the package of sanctions comprised “proportionate measures to defend American interests in response to harmful Russia actions including cyber intrusions and election interference.”
At the same time, ten of Moscow’s diplomatic representatives in the US have been declared persona non grata and ordered to leave the country. Back in Moscow, before the decision was announced, Alexey Chepa, the Deputy Chairman of the Russian parliament’s international affairs committee, warned that such a move would lead to a tit-for-tat expulsion from Moscow. “If Russian envoys are expelled,” the MP said, “naturally there will have to be a mirror-image response.”
The announcement came just hours after the Kremlin said that talk of sanctions would hinder the prospects of better bilateral relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin had been invited to participate in a bilateral summit by Biden “in the coming weeks,” but his press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, indicated that it won’t be happening “in the near future.”
“The fact that the sanctions are probably being discussed will in no way help the likelihood of such a meeting taking place – that can be stated unambiguously,” he added.
In March, Washington announced it had imposed sanctions on a number of Russian officials that it claimed were behind the jailing of Western – backed opposition figure Alexey Navalny, as well as for alleged “human rights” abuses during the policing of subsequent protests all over Russia, which were ruthlessly quelled. A small number of companies and one research institution that US officials intimated were involved in a shadowy chemical weapons program were also targeted.
The Kremlin denies that any such weapons are under development, and insists that Navalny’s arrest was purely an internal matter and a consequence of domestic laws. The move to restrict purchases of Russian sovereign debt, however, is likely to be viewed as a more significant escalation. Likewise, the expulsion of personnel from Russia’s Washington embassy comes after Moscow recalled its ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, for crisis talks over relations with the country. The diplomat returned home at the same time as a furious row erupted following an interview in which Biden was asked whether he believed Putin was “killer,” and replied, “Mmm hmm, I do.”
The Russian foreign ministry had previously said Antonov would not be returned to his post, and full diplomatic relations would not be restored, until the US is “able to demonstrate a desire to at least relatively stabilise our relationship and they do something visible and noticeable in this regard.”
In the wake of the announcement that Washington would impose new sanctions on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters that the US ambassador in Moscow, John Sullivan, had been summoned back for talks. “We will share with you an update on the results of this conversation, which will be difficult for the American side,” she said.
Russia recalled its ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, for consultations in March after Biden agreed with a television journalist that Putin was “a killer” and said Putin would “pay a price” for its alleged interference during the 2020 elections.
On October 11, 2019, President Trump nominated Sullivan to be the United States Ambassador to Russia. On December 12, 2019, the United States Senate confirmed his nomination by a 70–22 vote. Sullivan remained Ambassador to Russia during the presidential transition of Joe Biden.
Washington’s ambassador to Moscow has announced that he will return to the US for consultations, days after the Russian government recommended he leave the country during what it said was an “extremely tense situation”.
John Sullivan’s departure will leave both countries’ embassies without their top diplomats at a crucial moment, with Washington and Moscow recently announcing new sanctions, a Russian military buildup near Ukraine, and concerns about the opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s health while in detention.
“It is obvious that the extremely tense situation currently implies an objective need for the ambassadors of both our countries to be in their capitals to analyse the situation and hold consultations,” the foreign ministry wrote in an announcement of its counter-sanctions last week.
Russia has also been involved in diplomatic rows with other European countries in the last month as relations between Moscow and the west have grown more strained. On Tuesday, Russia expelled two Bulgarian diplomats in a tit-for-tat retaliation to spying allegations dating back to March.
Russia and Poland also expelled a handful of each other’s envoys last week. On Sunday the Czech Republic accused Russian military intelligence of setting a blast at an ammunition depot in 2014 and expelled 18 Russian diplomats. Moscow responded by expelling 20 Czech diplomats, paralysing the much smaller Czech embassy.
On Tuesday, the Bellingcat investigative collective along with Russian and Czech media outlets revealed that six GRU agents, including the leader of a Russian unit tasked with carrying out sabotage and poisonings in Europe, had travelled to the Czech Republic shortly before the blast.
Times are distressing as allegations and counter allegation fly thick around.
It appears to me that US has not given serious thoughts to a recent statement by Putin that Russia – China military alliance can’t be ruled out, or selling of Russian military hardware to Pakistan or India’s move to strengthen Quad as Netherlands, France and Germany join and UK waiting in the wings to join it.
Good sense prevail the world leaders.